Friday, August 3, 2012

Teachers want to teach: A rant and Giveaway

I was recently given the opportunity to read Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School by Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia.  Moskowitz and Lavinia are the founder and literacy curriculum designer of the Success Academies, a group of very successful charter schools in New York City.  In this book, they detail the various core principles that have led to outstanding results for their students, many of whom come from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in New York, and explain how those same key principles could be applied more widely to public schools throughout the country.  This is not, however, simply a theoretical account of these principles.  Woven throughout the book, and even as videos on an included CD, are sample lessons that illustrate how actual teachers implement these key principles with their young students.

Along with speed, rigor, a commitment to reading and writing, and an expectation of success, perhaps the most significant of the principles with guide the Success Academy is a focus on the preparation and engagement of the adults in the school: the teachers and administrators.  The Success Academies dedicate huge amounts of resources to inservices, practice, mentorship and other programs dedicated to the constant and immediate improvement of their teachers.

How different this is from what I remember when I started teaching.  I was fortunate enough to work in a district that had a strong staff development program for new teachers, but what this meant is that I had one week of extra workshops and three extra non-evaluative "coaching" observations every year.  In the Success Academies, teachers - both new and old - are observed almost daily and have constant access to training throughout the year.

If this were executed widely?  I think it would make all the difference in the world.

Teaching is inherently such a solo occupation.  It doesn't seem  like teachers work alone because they are constantly with other people - but those other people are small people, not colleagues.  While some (but not all!) teachers have opportunities to meet with and plan with other teachers in the same subject area or grade level team, most days it is a solo performance.  We graduate from school and our thrown in a room, where we get to be Queen of the castle.  Or where we get lost.

When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher's advice on how to deal with bureaucracy and administrators was "Close the door and do the right thing."  And I wanted to.  I tried to.  I think - hope - that most of the time I did.

But really?  That's crap.  I shouldn't have had to.  I shouldn't have been on my own to figure out what the right thing to do was.  The administrators shouldn't have been adversaries.

And honestly, for veteran teachers, the situation is at least as bad.  New teachers usually have mentors now, and get extra check ins from their superiors.  They come in with fresh ideas from school - some of which work, some of which don't.  Veteran teachers?  Get almost nothing.  Their reward for doing their job well is to get left alone.

Even for the best teachers, this really isn't a gift.

In other occupations, where you work daily with others and their work depends on your work, people notice when you start struggling.  If the methods change, you know because you see it.  In teaching, if what you're doing stops working, you're kind of on your own to figure out what to do instead.

There's a huge discussion in this country now about teacher quality and its effect on student outcomes.  In many ways I think it's valid.  I've seen the research and I believe it.  Teacher quality is THE most important criterion in student improvement.  But I think the discussion misses one key point.

Most teachers? Really want to do well.

I hope with all my heart that our schools do learn this lesson, soon.

I have a copy of this book to give away!!

In order to enter, leave me a comment on this post with your point of view on what teachers need to be successful.  It doesn't matter if you're a teacher, a parent, or just a person who went to school.  Your voice matters.

For an extra entry, tweet about this giveaway and leave me a comment with the link. 

I will choose a winner on Wednesday August 8.  Please make sure if there isn't a link to your email in your blogger profile that you leave it for me, or else how on Earth can I get you this book??

If you have more opinions about this issue, Eva would love to talk to you.  You can find her on twitter or her facebook page.

Disclosure:  This is a sponsored post.  I received a free copy of this book and was compensated for writing about it.  All opinions - rants and all - are my own.